Alexander Sims shrugged off a disappointing qualifying session to grab third in the F3 Euro Series season opener at Paul Ricard, then followed it up by winning race two.
With the second race shorter in laps and therefore worth fewer points, Sims finished the weekend tied for second in the title chase, level with Marco Wittmann and behind race one winner Eduardo Mortara.
Between them, the trio locked out the podium in both races – and Mortara pulled off an early candidate for move of the season by grabbing second place from fourth, going three-wide to scoot around the outside of team-mate Wittmann as he passed Roberto Merhi.
Pole was unexpectedly taken by rookie Daniel Juncadella, who frankly admitted afterwards that a top five start was the best he’d hoped for. Sims was left stranded in sixth following an error in his set-up that meant he went out with two fourth gears and no third.
In race one Mortara, who was Euro Series runner-up in 2008 and won the Macau Grand Prix last year, overtook Juncadella on lap four and led home Wittman for the win. Sims consigned the polesitter to fourth with three laps left.
In the second race, with its partially-reversed grid, Sims started sixth, Wittmann seventh and Mortara eighth, but they were able to use the long straights at Le Castellet to their advantage, slipstreaming their way through the field.
Sims overtook Merhi for the lead on lap seven but the Spaniard held on to second until the final lap, when Wittmann finally got past – and Mortara pounced to get past them both.
Adrian Quaife-Hobbs could only manage ninth in qualifying but worked his way up to sixth by the flag in the first race. In the second race he finished ninth.
Afterwards Sims, who was disappointed with his finishing position in the first race, said: “I am really happy with my second victory ever in the Formula 3 Euro Series. Starting off the season with a victory and a podium finish is very nice.”
Mortara said: “The final lap of this race with my overtaking move over Roberto Merhi and Marco Wittmann will stick in my memory for a long time to come.”